Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 00:48 UK

Increase in child safety warnings

Carrying a baby
Children's services leaders are warning about pressure on staff

Social workers in England have seen a sharp rise in the number of child safety worries brought to their attention, researchers say.

The number of warnings from the public or other professionals about children at risk has risen by 25% since the end of 2007.

Emergency protection orders for children increased by 32%.

The Association of Directors of Children's Services says councils have struggled with the rise in demand.

Children's services leaders, who commissioned the research, reject the idea this increase has been prompted by high-profile cases of child cruelty.

Increased workload

"It is important to be clear that these rises appear to have begun before the so-called 'Baby Peter effect', and we cannot attribute the additional activity in this area solely to a knee-jerk reaction to this case," said association president Marion Davis.

These initial findings powerfully express the pressures that local authority children's services departments are facing
Marion Davis, ADCS president

There will be further research to find why there has been such an increase in child protection cases, she said.

The research from the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) found an increase in workload right across the child protection system - from first warnings from the public through to emergency protection orders.

The study looked at 105 local authorities during the October to December quarter of 2009 and compared this to the same quarter in 2007.

Across those two years, investigations of fears of significant harm had risen by 20%. The number, the number of child-protection plans rose by 33%.

There was also a substantial increase in interim care orders, up by 38%, and there were 8% more looked after children in these local authorities.

Children's services leaders are warning that an increase in the number of social workers is insufficient to keep pace with the growing demand.

The research also warns that, even though there has been a 10% increase in staff in children's services, there were still unfilled vacancies for social workers.

"These initial findings powerfully express the pressures that local authority children's services departments are facing," said Marion Davis.

"It is vital that local authorities have sound and timely data on which to make crucial decisions about future funding priorities," she said.

"It is clear from the 10% increase in staffing that councils are aware of increasing pressures and are taking steps to increase the number of staff dealing with child protection concerns, but that councils have not been able to keep pace with the dramatic rise in demand."

Following high-profile criticisms of social services, there has been a government drive to raise the standards and morale of social workers.

Social workers will need a licence to practise and pay will be improved for the most experienced front-line staff, following proposals from a social work task force.

This was set up after the death of Baby Peter at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

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